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Why are we (mostly) monogamous? Is it meant to be this way?

(93 Posts)
CookieRookie Sun 28-Oct-12 18:16:49

I've been musing over this for a while. I know so many people whose marriages have ended, read so many threads about affairs, cheating, fantasizing about someone else outside of the marriage.

I can't for a minute imagine ever DH or me having an affair but who can? Who ever on their wedding day thinks "oh I'll enjoy this while it lasts because some day one or other of us is going to cheat". Yet it happens. Why? Is it that marriage has lost it's, I can't think of the word but sacredness or something. Are we marrying to soon? Are we conforming to a societal norm without really considering the consequences? Is one partner for the rest of your life just not good enough anymore or was it never good enough and we humans decided it was taboo or immoral to live a polygamous or polyandrous life and so we settled into a acceptable norm.

The list of reasons for marriage breakups could be infinite but my real pondering in all of this is - are we just not meant to be monogamous but are reared to believe this is how it should be (nurture) or are we absolutely supposed to be (nature) but are failing on quite a grand scale?

I have no reason to fear DH could be now or would ever cheat nor have I any desire to cheat on him but sometimes I can't help the feeling that the bubble is going to burst, that it is somehow inevitable because monogamy is just a made-up ideal.

CookieRookie Sun 28-Oct-12 18:29:52

I was going to name change but decided against it in case you all thought I was a journalist (not with my spelling!) or doing some sort of survey.

NotAnIdiotHonest Sun 28-Oct-12 18:31:26

It is a made up ideal, but it has many benefits and is just one if many choices we can make. I don't think we are "meant" to be monogamous, but we can be if we want to be.

As for why so many marriages break up, I don't know but just reading this board so many people seem to make huge commitments (marriage, DCs, house buying, moving in together) while knowing deep down that it's not right that I'm not surprised. Too many people desperately want to be coupled up and ignore the obvious signs that it's not going to work with that person.

Charbon Sun 28-Oct-12 18:33:35

Monogamy isn't a natural state and is something that is the product of social construction.

However, it's a mistake to think that people's reasons for having relationships outside of their sanctioned partnerships are solely connected to the desire to have sex with other people. Humans are far more complex beings and many people are driven not just by the desire to have sex with others, but to have secrets, to enjoy anything that is illicit or forbidden, to feel jealous or competitive and to form emotional attachments to others.

Hence, even if monogamy were not the default setting in couple relationships, some people would still have the above needs that would go unmet.

Just as it's a mistake to think that infidelity is all about sex with someone different, it is naive to think that a different social construct would erase all other human impulses, because that will never happen.

WarmFuzzyFun Sun 28-Oct-12 18:39:23

Wow. Charbon and NotAnIdiotHonest . I agree, life is shades of grey, not black and white.

I think if the 'one partner for life' model was not promoted as the only true/happy way to relate then perhaps the other ways of being in reationship, which I believe are probably suitable for many people would gain popularity.

(Where is SGB?smile)

CogitoEerilySpooky Sun 28-Oct-12 18:41:43

I think there are as many reasons for infidelity as there are individuals. Marriage is a big commitment, you're right, but it says in the service somewhere 'not to be entered into lightly' doesn't it? Some set out on marriage with no intention whatsoever of being monogamous - those people puzzle me. smile Some start out with high hopes and best intentions but find the reality doesn't match up. Some marry for the wrong reasons or they marry the wrong person and can't keep up with the pretence. People change, get tired of each other, want to hurt each other, are careless/indiscreet, feel trapped. There is a societal and family expectation that, once married, you 'stick with it through thick and thin'. One man I know claims his (very discreet) affairs make him a better DH and, who knows, they may celebrate their diamond anniversary with no-one any the wiser. But then there are the many thousands that pair-bond and stay bonded with no problems whatsoever... so it can and does work pretty well in the majority of cases.

L01S Sun 28-Oct-12 18:42:39

Well, it hasn't worked out for me. I was miserable in the longest relationship I had. He was so selfish and uncompromising and controlling though, so I don't really know if I would be cut out for it or not. Nobody seems to want monogamy with me?

I wonder how so many very ordinary people manage it.

Charbon Sun 28-Oct-12 19:03:18

I do think one of the problems with the way relationships are socially constructed is this unrealistic notion that everyone has a soulmate, so one of the reasons why people have affairs and jettison good people and previously sound relationships is because they convince themselves that the new person on the block is really their soulmate. Hence, their affairs aren't primarily driven by sex, but by romance and a belief in some mystical power that designated Miss Average who's just started in accounts, as their One True Love and Destiny.

And in many affairs, the quality of the sex isn't the motivating factor because objectively many people who've had affairs admit the sex wasn't that earth-shattering or sufficiently 'different' to sustain their interest alone. What fuels the affair is the secrecy, the illicitness and in some cases the new emotional bonds or the addiction to the feelings it gives people about themselves.

But if anything this shows that if there was a free pass to have sex with anyone, there would still be people who missed intrigue and romance and whose esteem and egoes aren't solely defined by someone willing to have sex with them. Those people need more than just sex with a new partner to fulfil their ego or excitement needs; they think they need all the 'trappings' of an affair and openly conducted new sexual relationships just wouldn't give them that buzz.

fluffyraggies Sun 28-Oct-12 19:05:07

You can marry with the very best intentions of staying married to that person for the rest of your life but then find you cannot fulfill that contract without condemning yourself (and therefore your spouse) to many years of unhappiness.

I believe many people managing life time relationships are enduring their partnership rather than enjoying it. Especially our parents generation and before that.

CookieRookie Sun 28-Oct-12 19:11:27

NotanIdiot I think that's another huge societal pressure isn't it? Having to be in a couple by a certain age. Not necessarily get married and have children but to be partnered with someone.

Charbon that's such an interesting post. I wonder is there a typical person who has typical traits though or is anyone or indeed everyone capable of straying because they cannot control the needs you listed. are they instincts that need supressing or are they desires? I also wonder do we know we have these needs or do they jump up mid marriage and take us by surprise. I think that's my question actually.

If we knew we would feel those needs at some stage what would make us say "I do" in the face of them. Would it be societal pressure or love or friendship.

I married my best friend. I would be more devastated if he had an emotional affair than a sexual one. If monogamy was only about one sexual partner then I could say I would be happy enough to be in an open marriage but it's not. It's all the things you listed and more. Sex and love are very different for me (that's a whole other story but I've come to accept that's the way I am) and I could never be in a polygamous relationship or an open marriage that involved several emotional relationships. This is my fear. That eventually we seek it out. Some of us. Lots of us actually and I ask why? I think it might just be in us to do that but I hope I'm wrong.

MooncupGoddess Sun 28-Oct-12 19:12:42

Society these days places too much importance on monogamous relationships; couples are expected to be well matched in every possible way (love, sex, finance, ambitions, living together, bringing up children, etc). It's just too much and not surprising things go wrong. In the olden days marriage was mostly for practical reasons and it was perfectly normal for people (well - certainly men...) to get sex/love elsewhere.

I don't really understand why marriage is still so common now that it's considered perfectly OK to have sex and live together without it. Of course the legal benefits are valuable, particularly if you have children, but lifelong fidelity, love and trust is a very high standard to meet and I'm not surprised it often doesn't work out.

motherinferior Sun 28-Oct-12 19:13:39

Monogamy is terribly boring. I personally find. Mr Inferior is a man of many charms but I know those charms frightfully, frightfully well wink.

I reckon that's got quite a lot to do with it.

panicnotanymore Sun 28-Oct-12 19:18:07

"As for why so many marriages break up, I don't know but just reading this board so many people seem to make huge commitments (marriage, DCs, house buying, moving in together) while knowing deep down that it's not right that I'm not surprised. Too many people desperately want to be coupled up and ignore the obvious signs that it's not going to work with that person."

That para has steam coming out of my ears. I take it you haven't been unfortunate to have to deal with infidelity notanidiot, as if you had I can't believe you say something quite so crass. I'm one of those people you married my soul mate.... We were one of those couples everyone holds up as the ideal, the ones who'll never split up. Didn't stop H having an affair though, which shocked his friends and family who thought (and I quote), 'he was far too honourable man'.

If we want to get all primeval about it, no we aren't meant to be monogamous. Men want to spread their gene pool, and women want the best genes, and may cheat to find them, but have more to lose as they want their man to stick around and catch lots wild boar for lunch.... or whatever. However evolution has moved us out of caves so things are a bit different now....

Me, I'm loyal, I could not more cheat than I could drown kittens. Others are happy to. What I guess I'm trying to say is that everyone is different, some hold monogamy as important, others don't, and the problem arises when 2 people with different ideals pair up.

AgathaFusty Sun 28-Oct-12 19:24:36

I am not sure why people say that monogamy isn't a natural state - I'm not sure that anyone really knows what the natural state for humans is. Certainly some animals mate for life, which I assume means that they are monogamous (although I am not any kind of expert on this grin).

We attended a wedding some years ago. It was my DHs aunt marrying a man a few years younger than herself, after (I believe) a fairly short relationship. The aunt didn't expect the marriage to last and actually said on her wedding day that if it lasted 5 years then she would feel she had done well from it. It didn't last. I thought it was quite sad really, that she would go into a marriage knowing that it was going to end prematurely, but that's only my opinion. I think that, from reading these boards, that opinion is not that unusual - certainly I have read a fair few posters saying that they knew they were making a mistake on their wedding day but they went through with it anyway.

I know lots of long term monogamous couples though, who appear very happy. So it is certainly normal for them. After 28 years with my DH, I have no desire to cheat on him, nor have I ever had.

I am sure that SGB will be inputting to this thread soon, calling monogamous couples mundane etc etc grin

CookieRookie Sun 28-Oct-12 19:25:33

Took me way to long to write that sorry.

So what affair-proofs the marriage then? Is it friendship, children, love, sex, balance of everything?

What makes me love dh and not want anyone else? I had a conversation with a work colleague a few weeks ago. We were discussing someone who had been paralysed from the neck down after a bad car accident. Someone said "You'd wonder would they be better off dead". I couldn't believe that attitude and said if that happened to DH I would just be so happy for his brain to be ok. I fell in love with his brain. My colleague said she would find it awful to have to stay married to someone who couldn't do anything or have sex. I was shocked to be honest but maybe that's just me.

Sex just means something different to me. I like it. I love it with DH but I love his mind more and I couldn't share it intimately with someone else. This makes me believe I'm not monogamous because of society but because of nature. I'm wondering if I'm delusional. That's a very strong word but what I mean is am I fooling myself. Do we all, in some way, eventually wonder if the grass is greener and maybe check it out and if we don't what stops us?

LynetteScavo Sun 28-Oct-12 19:29:03

I think nature intended males to spread their seed and get as many females pregnant as possible. But nature also intended women to stick with one man, to ensure he provided food and shelter for her and her child.

The two don't match up very well though, especially in modern times when women can provide for themselves.

I always presumed that any man would one day cheat on me. DH appears never to have done so, and tells me he can't be bothered. He does keep impregnating me, though, so maybe that's fulfilling his desire to spread his seed.

CookieRookie Sun 28-Oct-12 19:33:13

LynetteScavo grin

NotAnIdiotHonest Sun 28-Oct-12 19:38:01

Oh no panic! I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to offend or make you angry. I wasn't suggesting that the reason i gave was the only reason marriages break up. Obviously they break up for many many different reasons. What I said was just something that had occurred to me today after reading several posts where people were preparing to commit to people they were obviously unsure about. You are right that ive never had to deal with infidelity - but was my reasoning really so crass?

fluffyraggies Sun 28-Oct-12 19:38:36

I don't think you can affair proof a marriage.

I believe some marriages are a ticking time bomb of affair likely-hood.

Their are so many different variables when it comes to people and the way people change, how they age, life experiences, realisations about themselves and the world, the way they feel about them selves and others and so on that it isn't surprising that relationships flounder.

Perhaps it's more a case of good fortune when a couple manages to stay happy together through the years and thick and thin, just as much as a case of a good choice being made at the outset?

NotAnIdiotHonest Sun 28-Oct-12 19:59:24

Cookie sorry to ignore your question above - I agree. Thinking you have to be in a couple by a certain age and have a life that follows the traditional path of career, house, marriage, kids, happy ever after puts massive pressure on and can make you feel inferior if you don't manage to do them all, or in that order, even when they are not things that are necessarily right for you.

Charbon Sun 28-Oct-12 21:46:31

You can't affair-proof a marriage. You can only affair-proof yourself.

HappyHalloweenMotherFucker Sun 28-Oct-12 22:09:13

sgb's keyboard is broken

just sayin'

fluffyraggies Sun 28-Oct-12 22:10:30

Saw that just now happy on another thread. grin

Tressy Sun 28-Oct-12 22:21:38

I have heard that women too are biologically programmed to have sex with a few different men, then it's survival of the fittest as to who impregnates her. Then we are programmed to stay with that man for him to provide. Although that's not the case since women can provide for their off springs nowadays.

However, I would be more than happy to pair bond in my middle age and now that my children are adults. Don't know why now when I was happier alone previously.

HappyHalloweenMotherFucker Sun 28-Oct-12 22:35:27 grin

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